In 1962, I came home during spring vacation, after a successful stint as a walk-on for the UO Swim Team in my junior year. I wanted to keep swimming after the college season so I went back to my old swim team, Pleasant Hill Swim Club, in northern California for the week.
Pleasant Hill was then coached by Irvin Zador, a Hungarian. If you go on-line and look him up, you will see photos of Zador with blood running down his face during the 1956 Olympics.
Zador was on the Hungarian water polo team after the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, and the two countries fought it out in the pool as well as on the streets of Budapest. Zador may have been bloodied, but the Russian he fought with during the match was lying face down in the pool. Hungary won the gold medal.
I was able to swim for the vacation week, and I got in lane one with a bunch of 14 and unders, one of whom was a skinny 12 year old kid named Mark Spitz. He was faster than me even at 12, but I left second during each interval, and we had fun catching and then passing the rest of the crew in the lane during each workout. Between intervals, Mark told me some of his times. I was duly impressed. We had a good time.
Around Wednesday, I happened to notice that there was a man on deck all the time Mark was swimming. I asked some friends, who knew what was going on around the Pleasant Hill swim team, who the guy was. “Arnold Spitz,” I was told.
I was also told that this was Mark’s second team in the Bay Area, having come from the Berkeley Aquabears, coached by Laurabelle Bookstover, one of the few female swimming coaches at the time. She later had a quartet of 11-12 year-old boys who won every event in the many age group meets possible in the Pacific Association. One of these boys was Bob Strand.
Mark and his father had not lasted long with Laurabelle. There were rumors at that time that Irvin Zador, too, was having trouble with Arnold as a parent of a precocious swimmer.
At the end of one of my last workouts that week, I came into the locker room and found Arnold Spitz talking to the other boys in the room on how to swim butterfly. He was using his son as an example on how to do the stroke. I paused and then said, “Shouldn’t you let the coach do that?”
Arnold looked up at me and said, “Who are you?”
Shortly after, Arnold moved Mark to the Santa Clara Swim team to swim under George Haines.
For more information about Mark Spitz, read The Fifty Meter Jungle by Sherman Chavoor, owner and coach of Arden Hills Swim Club in Sacramento, coach of Debbie Meyer, Susan Pederson, Mike Burton and Mark Spitz.
To be continued with Part 2 – Head to Head – Mark Spitz vs. John Ferris